I’d be lying if I said that the term “music project” didn’t make me just a little nervous. I don’t know why people can’t just call these things bands or solo work, but that term “music project” always just seems to carry with it a connotation. The sheer fact that it has “project” in its title should tell you that its aim are strictly experimental and may or may not adhere to restrictive structures of modern music (i.e., comprehensible words). The best example I can point to for this is Merril Garbus’s dreaded tUnE-yArDs. I’m sorry if I step on any toes here, but I despise tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l, and all of that, for lack of a better word, shit. I think slapping a “project” label on something like that is simply an attempt at justification for the noises the album you are subjected to. That being said, I am making an effort to break from my normally-traditionalist views of music. I am trying to embrace digital-only albums, mix tapes, guest appearances on non-hip hop songs, and all of the other commonplace happenings of the twenty-first century. This was a main reason I forced myself to listen to the (sigh) “music project” of Shara Worden, My Brightest Diamond. She’s been well-received by virtually every critic and is somehow tied in with Sufjan Stevens. I have no reason not to listen to her, other than that apprehensive “project” label, but oh well, here it goes.
The album, All Things Will Unwind, certainly sets forth its own rules of conventions and provides a tenuous product. The instruments and melodies seem to come and go as they please by the track. It provides for an interesting and diverse sound while at the same time repeatedly shocking me and throwing me out any established rhythm. In “We Added It Up” and “Reaching Through to Other Side,” the musical track is saturated with both strings and woodwind sections that are supposed to be fusing together but flirt with dueling and clashing. The sound is always interesting, but it definitely requires some effort on your end to synthesize this all.
For all of the bizarre happenings on the instrumental side of things, Worden makes virtually every song worthwhile with her stellar vocals. They evoke all of the lofty folk crooning you can hope for and conjures up comparisons to Joni Mitchell, Leslie Feist and even a hint of Karin Bergquist of Over the Rhine. Her singing alone makes the album (project?) a success. On “Escape Routes,” she displays tremendous form by hopping back and forth between moments of rapid piercing tones and long drawn out cries. The hushed whispers on “Be Brave,” although so quiet that they are almost masked completely by another busy musical composition, still hold tremendous artistic weight. “She Does Not Brave the War” was my favorite song on the album by far and is one of the best vocal performances I’ve heard all year. The sound is finally stripped down to just a few soft strums in the background, allowing her amazing voice to finally take center stage. It builds to a quaint and powerful anthem that falls somewhere between “Lacrimosa” and “Ave Maria.” I don’t say this terribly often, but the song is absolutely beautiful.
The album never really deviates from the whole “project” mystique. The songs seem to have very little in common with each other and a sense of continuity never comes close to emerging over the eleven tracks. They all have high ambitions; “Ding Dang” and “Everything in Line” try to create a metallic sounding beat out of pings and pangs (I know it rhymes with the name of the song, but I can’t think of any other way to describe it, “There’s a Rat” goes for lyrical corkiness while “High Low Middle” tries out orchestral acceleration. It’s definitely a music project, but if that term alone doesn’t scare you away, then I think you’ll be presently surprised with the artsy belting of My Brightest Diamond. It’s definitely more palatable than tUnE-yArDs.
This is not my download link!